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On the heels of completing a combination of two of his investments — Lions Gate and Starz — Liberty Media and Liberty Global Chairman John Malone took a moment to chat on his way into the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. He explained why it makes sense to combine the two media companies, that are both "subscale" in their spaces of film and television. "This gives them an opportunity to be bigger, more aggressive in investing in content, and to try new things," he said.
Malone said that Lions Gate's acquisition of Starz will help even out a hit-driven business and mitigate risk. "Theatrical is a tough business. You can run hot and cold. The nice thing about the combination is that it reduces volatility, creates a stronger base with more predictability, longer-term bets. And they can retain a larger interest in the creative assets they produce."
With a long history of doing deals for tax efficiency, Malone has that consideration front and center in this move as well. He said this deal has an "immediate benefit to reduce tax leakage; that's very helpful when you put as much leverage on as this deal contemplates."
Even after this transaction, Malone is still looking for others. "There's always M&A opportunities. I have nine different public companies I'm involved in. I'm always looking for opportunities."
On the heels of the surprising vote by the U.K. to exit the European Union, Malone might be finding opportunities overseas. "I personally think the U.K. will be increasingly interesting for foreign capital. My guess would be a cheaper pound combined with a more pro-business government," said Malone. "I'm a substantial investor in Ireland as the most business-friendly player."
"I think the U.K. is going to be fine; the reaction is way overblown," said Malone. "This will create investment opportunities in the U.K. I also think there's a fair chance they work out the EU issues."
Malone also weighed in on the biggest saga in the media space: Sumner Redstone's battle over the future of Viacom. "I'm hoping that all settles down and everybody's treated fairly. Sumner's been a long-term friend and sometimes partner and sometimes frenemy," said Malone. "I hope it all works out to everybody's benefit. They've created great assets and are a very important part of the industry."
When asked if he'd be interested in Viacom's studio, Paramount, he said no, but he made the point that because of the turmoil, Viacom is substantially undervalued. He also said that if the two companies were combined, and CBS CEO Les Moonves were put on top, he'd do a "terrific job." But Malone didn't make any predictions, noting that he has "no idea what kind of estate tax problems they ultimately will face."